Then, head tilted, eyes meeting mine, he says…” if I get rejected…eyes cast downwards, well… I- don’t- handle- rejection”, slowly shaking his head side to side. I believed him.

We were talking about the steps he had taken towards a new career opportunity for the future. Having this business  would mean he could quit his corporate job and work independently with the desired flexibility to move to another state or country. Very appealing.

He was already identifying some obstacles and possible solutions. Then the energy shifted. The fear of being rejected spiked the seriousness of our discussion to a profound level. I felt it. The man clearly had his reasons for fearing rejection. Why?

Ok, none of us like rejection and we all know it’s a natural part of personal and business relationships. Yet, the grip it holds psychologically can feel deadly.

Three ways we know this is because…

1. We have been on the receiving end of an employer’s conversation, “your position has been eliminated”, or “you didn’t get the promotion”, and perhaps repeatedly,  “another applicant accepted the offer, thanks for applying”.

2. We go to work after another cold reception from a partner who hasn’t engaged meaningfully for days after a quarrel or  told you the night before they don’t want to be married to you anymore.

3. Then, there’s the seemingly less serious, but commonly felt rejection when comments on Facebook are ignored; emails, texts, chats or voice mails go unanswered or worse, answered with abruptness, dismissive language.

Certainly job seekers and crafters must be prepared to handle rejection. And like any fear when faced intelligently, I believe, loses the strong hold and becomes manageable.

In today’s article, the most important secret for managing rejection is…

Social rejection mimics physical pain in the brain. Actual MRI studies of the brain, show that the same area that lights up when physical pain occurs, lights up when social rejection is felt.

Lead author, Dr. Ethan Kross, of the published research, “Social Rejection Shares Somatosensory Representations with Physical Pain”, Proceedings of the Nat’l Academy of Sciences, offers the analogy of social rejection feeling painful like a spilled cup of hot coffee on your forearm. (yikes!)  No wonder fear of rejection exists. The emotional pain hurts like physical pain.

Researched information always helps us sort through complex issues. It  provides a scientific explanation vs. an assumption that a  character flaw or undeveloped self-discipline is at play. Unfortunately, emotional or psychological issues are often assigned a status of moral weakness. The research on rejection provides a nonjudgmental pathway of understanding the pain of rejection and that’s exciting!  Keep reading…

And it seems, we can relive the pain of rejection more easily than physical pain.  A favorite speaker about the significance of rejection, Guy Winch PhD, suggests an experiment… Try to remember a physical pain and then remember a social rejection experience and compare the experience. I could easily do both.  Try it yourself.  Here’s my example…

The physical pain of fracturing my left shoulder after falling while running with my 90 lb. dog, Freddy 🙂 happened 4 years ago. Yes, I remember it feeling painful, but the memory isn’t visceral.  The picture of Freddy, sitting on top of me while I was wondering if I could get up was clear (:-<, my protector), but the physical pain wasn’t.

The rejection (from a former employer) clearly stirred up more feelings in my gut as well as pictures of that time sitting with the manager and the thoughts during and after the event…which took place over 20 years ago!  I could jump into that conversation again today…ridiculous, but true.

Amazing that I can still connect with the indignation that time held. Reliving the pain of rejection seems much easier to relive than the physical pain. Indeed, more needs to be said about this reliving rejection so easily.  Hello Part 2 of this article 😉

Finally, during our hunter/gatherer past, we were sensitized to fear rejection. It was a way the tribe controlled behaviors. Being shunned or ostracized from the tribe was akin to a death sentence in those primitive times. You were safe in the tribe. Apart from the tribe, look out!

Evolutionary psychologists say the tribe members who were more sensitive to the pain/risk of being separated from the tribe were more likely to survive. Their brain protected them with an early rejection alert of sorts. So do our brains today.  Some of us are wired more tightly than others, but we are biologically wired to be more sensitive to rejection.

Knowing this, I believe, is another helpful piece of information  to successfully handling rejection.

The takeaway is…

Fear of rejection has deep roots in both our evolutionary past and the pain center of our brains. Sensitivity to rejection today in the 21st century is just as real and deserves our understanding as opposed to moral judgment that is dismissive.

Now you are informed about the science that explains why fear of rejection exists. Join me for Part 2 where secrets for handling rejection are revealed.

In the meantime, I’d love to know, What helps you handle fear of rejection?


Are you stuck in your efforts to find your dream job?  Sign up for a Love My Work Strategy Session and let’s find ways to free up your strengths and accelerate your job efforts today!